472: Non-Confrontational Confrontation

on December 17, 2010 in Book 16

In Which Mackenzie Confronts Avoidance Head-on

Steff insisted on sticking close to me on the way back to the dorm after melee class. Her being all touchy and wanting to basically hang off of me or Amaranth wasn’t unusual, but her quicker stride meant that when she wasn’t actually draping herself over someone, she was more likely to end up sort of flitting around people rather than walking side-by-side with them.

But this time she was keeping pace with me and she wasn’t being unusually gropey or otherwise acting like she was particularly hard-up, or even just her regular amount of it. If anything, she seemed to be more than a little bit on edge.

“Um… is everything okay, Steff?” I asked her.

“What? Oh,” she said. “Yeah, I’m fine… I’m just, you know, trying to stay close to you.” She threw an arm around me, a gesture that couldn’t help seeming necessary from her. “It’s not safe out here, you know.”

“You’ve never seemed particularly safety-conscious before,” I said.

“My safety? No,” she said. “Yours? That, as the frog said to the miller’s son, is a different story. Somebody’s got to look out for you, kitten.”

“I’d rather stay away from feline-based terms of endearment,” I said, thinking of the nekos.

“Okay, but I’m not calling you ‘poodle’,” Steff said.

“Deal,” I said. “Anyway, it’s not even dark out yet… so what’s really on your mind?”

“Well, it’s getting there,” she said. “Sort of. Ish. But not all the monsters are afraid of the light… especially not the kinds you have to worry about. I just don’t want anyone to see you walking alone.”

“That’s… sweet, I guess,” I said. “What brought this on?”

“Something Jilly said,” she said. I winced, but it was a step up from her full nickname for Coach Callahan.


“About not being a good idea to let anyone see you walking around alone,” she said. “She says that when a group of people who are used to feeling powerful or invulnerable have been scared witless by something and then been reassured, some of them end up taking a swing at the thing that scared them in the first place.”

“Or the nearest convenient scapegoat, I suppose,” I said. “That sounds sound enough, I guess, but I haven’t really seen anything like that. Yeah, there’s a lot of relief, but nobody’s come up and punched me. I’m actually having one of my better weeks, in terms of things like that.”

“Well, let’s just work on keeping it that way,” Steff said. “I kind of trust her judgment when it comes to things like what evil lurks in the hearts, et cetera… and what stupid and scared lurks there, too.” She fluttered her eyelashes at me and put on a hurt tone. “Unless… well… you’re not saying that you mind my company, are you?”

“Of course not!” I said quickly. Even knowing that she was hamming it up, I still felt guilty. My heartstrings had to come equipped with great big handles for easy gripping. “I love spending time with you, Steff… you know that.”

I expected her to laugh or something, but she just shook her head.

“Oh, Mack,” she said.


“You’re almost making this no fun,” she said.

“If teasing people isn’t fun, maybe you shouldn’t do it,” I said.

“Let’s not get crazy… I said ‘almost’.”

“Well, there are other reasons not to do it,” I said.

“Mack… let’s be honest,” she said. “If I told you that I would never tease you again, you’d be heartbroken.”

“Well, there’s teasing and then there’s teasing,” I said.

“Yeah… so just tell me which one you don’t want me to do anymore, and I’ll take you at your word,” she said. “And if you wouldn’t mind doing one thing for me?”


“Walk a little faster,” she said. “I mean, seriously, this moving at a human’s pace is killing me.”

“What, you think I’m dawdling so I can enjoy the cold a little bit longer?” I said. “Anyway, technically it’s my pace… is that what elves say instead of ‘a snail’s pace’?”

“When we remember that snails move,” she said.

Mariel was waiting for me in the girl’s stairwell in Harlowe, standing there at the first landing up with both sets of arms folded. I stopped when I saw her… having a conversation while walking up the stairs seemed like an easily avoided recipe for tripping. There was traffic heading in both directions, but not heavy enough to cause a collision. We both waited while a few people threaded their ways around us.

“What do you want?” Steff asked her when she figured out why I’d stopped.

“Hey, be nice,” I said quietly.

“What, do you want to spoil all of my fun now?” she asked.

“She’s not doing anything,” I said.

“Puddy’s waiting for you upstairs,” Mariel said to me, ignoring Steff.

“What, is she looking for a fight?” Steff said. “Or maybe an audience? That seems a bit more likely. She probably hasn’t had IDA recommended daily dose of attention yet…”

“She’s just looking to talk,” Mariel said.

“Yeah, well, maybe Mack doesn’t want to t…”

“Steff, I can speak for myself,” I said. “And… yeah, for certain values of ‘want’, I do want to talk to her. Or at least, I feel like I have to.”

“What the loving fuck?” Steff said. “Is this like when you ‘had’ to go out on a date with Sooni instead of being with me, because in the secret forgotten tongue of crazy people you’d promised her that? If so: fuck that, and get Amy to fuck the horse it rode in on. I thought you were done with Puddy.”

“I am… I will be. I want to be,” I said. “This is just for closure. To make sure she leaves me alone.”

“Mack, feeding a starving dog is not how you get it to leave you alone forever,” Steff said. “In fact, if it’s really starving enough, not feeding it pretty much guarantees that it will leave you alone. Though I’m not sure this metaphor extends quite that far.”

“Okay, look, I only told you she was waiting for you so you wouldn’t be all surprised and try to squirm your way out of it,” Mariel said. “I told her you said you wanted to see her, so if you back out now she’ll be… well, I’m going to look bad.”

“Oh, honey, I’m sure she’ll avoid your face if you ask nicely enough,” Steff said.

“Steff, I said I wanted to talk to her,” I said. “She wouldn’t be looking to talk to me if I hadn’t… if I backed out now, she’d have every reason to be upset.”

“A reason,” Steff said. “One reason. Do you want to stack that up against all the reasons you have to be upset with her?”

“She has her reasons, too,” I said. I was having a hard time calling to mind the specifics of what she’d said in the shared dreamscape, but that was part of the general impression I had. “I mean, everyone has their reasons for doing things. I’m not saying that her reasons are good, but they make sense to her…”

“And that and five coppers will buy you a can of soda,” Steff said.

“I thought it was ‘cup of coffee’,” Mariel said.

“I don’t drink coffee,” Steff said. “Why are you still here?”

“I just want to make sure she doesn’t back out,” Mariel said.

“I’m not going to,” I said.

“You’re not going to talk to her alone,” Steff said.

“I’m not going to go off with her, or go anywhere with a closed door,” I said. “But Steff… I don’t want this to be a big confrontation… or even a small one.”

“I’m not going to abandon you, Mack,” she said.

“Then don’t,” I said. “Just stay close. I’ll shout if I need you.”

Of course, I wouldn’t need to shout any more than Steff would need to be in the room with us to hear every word that was said, and I hoped that by saying this I would remind her of that without giving Mariel a similar mental nudge. I understood why she wanted to be there… it was about keeping me in sight and within arm’s reach, as she’d done on the way back from class. I wondered exactly what Callahan had said that had got her so spooked on my behalf, but now wasn’t the time for that.

“Fine,” Steff said, nodding.

“So you’re going?” Mariel asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Is she in her room?”

“Yeah,” she said. “She t… asked me if I wouldn’t mind clearing off for a bit, so I’m going to go have dinner.”

“Alright, then,” I said. “I’ll, uh… see you later.”

I didn’t really have any plan on doing so, but it seemed like something needed to be said to end the awkward encounter. I’d barely said it when Mariel hurried away… though from her point of view, she was probably moving pretty slowly.

“Well,” Steff said. “Once more unto the bitch?”

“That’s not nice,” I said as we headed upstairs. “And it just barely works, as wordplay.”

“That’s your real objection, isn’t it?” she said.

“Puddy’s room is right next to the stairs, so when we get upstairs, you just keep walking,” I said. “I’d like her to have the impression that I’m alone.”

“Do you have any particular destination in mind?” she said. “Remember, this isn’t my floor or my side.”

“Here, let me give you my key,” I said. I dug it out of my pocket… in the process, I caught my foot on the lip of a step and went sprawling forward.

“Good job,” Steff said, helping me up. “Most people only manage to fall the other way. Don’t let gravity keep you down.”

“Very funny,” I said.

I handed off the key and we continued on our way… or ways, as she ended up ahead of me well before the top of the stairs. I was silently hoping that Puddy’s door was open. The thought of dealing with my former roommate had a tendency to put me back into the mindset I’d had during my first few days at MU, in which I’d been quite a bit meeker. If I went in feeling all weak and submissive, she’d just walk all over me.

That thought seemed dangerously close to Puddy’s own philosophy, which she’d charmingly expressed to me in the form of “big dog vs. little bitch”. But I didn’t want to juggernaut over Puddy… I just didn’t want her doing so to me.

Luck was with me, though… insofar as luck can arrive in the form of someone like Puddy waiting for you. She was leaning against the bit of wall between her door and the one to the stairs.

“Well, well,” she said. “A little sylph told me that you had something to say to me. Who’d’ve thunk it?”

“Do you mind if we get out of the hall?” I said, nodding towards her open door. I figured that wording was a little safer than suggesting we go into her room. We’d end up in her room either way, but it seemed to me like you had to go further in to “go into the room” than you do to “get out of the hall”.

“What, are you ashamed to be seen with me?” she asked.

“If I were, why would I want to be seen going into your room?” I countered, then winced when I realized what I’d said. Oh, well.

“See? You can’t even say that with a straight face,” she said.

“I’m not ashamed of you, Puddy,” I said. “I have no reason to be. There’s just a lot of nosey people on this floor who are way too interested in… people like us.”

I really didn’t know if anybody gave any portion of a rodent’s anatomy about what Puddy did, but it seemed like a diplomatic misstep to suggest that I was the more interesting person.

“Alright,” Puddy said. She ushered me towards her room. “After you.”

“Do you think we should leave the door open?” I said as I headed in. I just stepped to the side of the doorway, just out of sight of the hallway. “It might look less suspicious.”

“Probably. I don’t care,” she said, following me. “I really don’t know where you got the idea that I care what anybody thinks of me.”

“Well, you put enough effort into making sure everybody thinks you don’t care about that,” I said.

“Truth in advertising, Mack,” she said. “I’m not going to apologize for who I am. If that’s what you’re looking for…”

“Who you are was never the problem… it’s what you do.”

“They’re the same thing. I am what I do and I do what I am… that’s what you call honesty. No hypocrisy, no lies, no two-faced… ness,” she said. “What you see is what you get, with me.”

“Are you saying I’m different?”

“What? You know you are,” she said. “You don’t talk, you button up and keep everything to yourself. The first day we were here, you didn’t want to tell me what you were. I had to pry it out of you.”

“That’s not true,” I said.

“Oh? Because as I remember it…”

“You don”t have to pry anything out of me, or out of anyone,” I said. “You could have just as easily minded your own business and let me have my secrets.”

“It would’ve come out sooner or later anyway,” she said.

I nodded. There was no sense getting bogged down in side arguments.

“You’re right,” I said. “But that doesn’t make what you did right.”

“So you don’t mind your secret being found out, just as long as it’s not me doing it,” she said. “That’s petty. Really petty. I don’t know why I expected better.”

“Puddy, if you stole money from me, the fact that someone else might have done it later wouldn’t change the fact that you stole it, would it?” I said.

“We aren’t talking about stealing, though if you want to talk about money I was always generous…”

“And always quick to make sure I knew that I owed you,” I said.

“Well, no one just gives money without expecting something in return. That’s not how the world works.”

“And that’s not how generosity works,” I said. “Or friendship.”

“Friendship works on trust, Mack… you wouldn’t need secrets if you’d trusted me,” she said.

“And you don’t have secrets?” I asked.

“Not big ones, like my race,” she said. “I’m open and free about that.”

“So you get to decide what secrets are worth keeping,” I said. “And whose.”

“Well… everything’s worked out okay for you, hasn’t it?” Puddy said. “Not that I’m suffering. I get by… I always do. Ungrateful roommates, traitorous friends, accusations of cheating… I have problems you couldn’t even dream of, Mack.”

“Everyone has problems, Puddy,” I said. Her injured pose was kind of irksome, but there didn’t seem to be anything gained by getting into a “who has the bigger problems” pissing contest. I didn’t want to start up a new conflict with her and I didn’t want her knowing about my life.

That, and I could well believe that she had her life had its share of problems… more easily than I could believe that she wasn’t suffering. If there was one thing about Puddy I could believe without straining my imagination, it was that she wasn’t happy with her life.

“Look… you wanted to talk to me,” Puddy said. “What do you want from me?”

“After last night, I just wanted to… I don’t know, clear the air,” I said. “I guess I want to know what you want from me. I’m not going to be your ‘little bitch’, Puddy, but I don’t want to be your enemy or rival or whatever. I’m not interested in stealing your thunder. I have too much thunder in my life already. I don’t want the thunder I get.”

“Yeah, well, that doesn’t stop you from getting it,” she said.

“But you don’t have to take it personally when I do. I’m not trying…”

“And I am?” she said

“I didn’t say that,” I said. This was getting to be pointless, if it hadn’t been from the outset. I could dance around trying to avoid being confrontational and trying to avoid a fight all night and it wouldn’t matter if she wanted one. “But as long as we’re both here, we’re going to keep running into each …”

“Who’s stuck?” Puddy came back, shouting. “You don’t want to be here… that’s what the realproblem is. Why don’t you just go?”

“I’m not dropping out of school to get away from you, Puddy,” I said.

“I’m not talking about leaving school,” Puddy said. “I’m talking about getting out of Harlowe.”

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , , ,

29 Responses to “472: Non-Confrontational Confrontation”

  1. Kevin says:

    I’m mildly surprised no one has commented on this yet (usually there are a few points made by the time I finish reading) but is the talk of Mack moving to a new dorm seriously going to be a result of Puddy? Sounds a bit like a reversal of character development. Not sure how that will turn out most protagonists don’t slide back down the hill they’ve been pushing a boulder up. It might make a deeper character come to think of it.

    Current score: 0
    • Faraway says:

      I’m sure it’s not just that, it’s rather a sum of many factors.

      First of all, remember the offer made about assistant position just a few chapters ago. It was mentioned that it’s possible to get an on-campus living place. Then, remember all those overly nosy neighbors that are around. Puddy… Puddy is just the one to bring it all out in the open – she has done nothing more than thrown all the issues right in Mackenzie’s face.

      In short, with her friends and teachers pulling her to greater heights, with some of the other dorm residents making fuss, with Puddy showing just how weighted is the possible push, and with an alternative dangling right before her nose like some carrot Mack has all the pre-requisites to relocate.

      Puddy was, and is, a catalyst in Mack’s life. Using the weight scales analogy, she is the one to remove the pin that keeps arms of scales from moving, and whatever has more wieght on Mack, happens.

      Current score: 0
  2. beappleby says:

    Well, Puddy’s not the only one she’d be getting away from…

    Actually, I was picturing it like a “take that!” – actually taking Puddy up on what she said while in a snit.

    Current score: 0
  3. zeel says:

    My guess is that We are intended to believe that, but it will actually be for more legitimate reasons.

    Current score: 0
  4. Fylas says:

    “I had to pry it out of me.” huh? is that a typo ? shouldn’t it be “you had to pry it out of me.” or something? :3

    Current score: 0
    • Oitur says:

      Yeah, but I think it’s “I had to pry it out of you.”

      Current score: 0
  5. Helen Rees says:

    ditto the

    I had to pry it out of me

    and raise

    You don”t have to pry anything out of me, or out of anyone
    – the apostrophe has become a double quote, and

    “You don’t want to be here… that’s what the realproblem is. Why don’t you just go?”

    real & problem need a space between them.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      One more Typo Report to add:

      That, and I could well believe that she had her life had its share of problems…

      Either “she had” or “her life had” needs to go. I’m thinking “she had”, since it doesn’t agree with “its share of problems”.

      Current score: 0
  6. SilentSooYun says:

    “My heartstrings had to come equipped with great big handles for easy gripping.”

    Loved this line 🙂

    Current score: 0
    • Morten G says:

      I thought it was funny but it didn’t really ring true to me.
      Shouldn’t it be more like “My heartstrings had come equipped with great big handles for easy gripping.” or “My heartstrings had to have come equipped with great big handles for easy gripping.”?

      Current score: 0
  7. Zathras IX says:

    What the Frog said to
    The Miller’s Son is indeed
    A different story

    Current score: 0
  8. Tigger says:

    This line: “If so: fuck that, and get Amy to fuck the horse it rode in on.” It amused me so much that I literally LOL’d.

    Current score: 1
  9. Evalissa says:

    “But as long as we’re both here, we’re going to keep running into each …”

    Judging from puddys reply, i would assume it to be more:

    “But as long as we’re both stuck here, we’re going to keep running into each …”

    or is puddy hearing things?

    Current score: 0
  10. Mikka says:

    Loving as always, well done AE! For some reason, I am really excited about her moving! I can not wait to see it happen!

    Current score: 0
  11. novaseer says:

    is Puddy’s response “who’s stuck?” from an earlier draft? ’cause Mack hadn’t used the word at all… or is Puddy just hearing what she wants to hear?

    Current score: 0
  12. zeel says:

    I think it is unintentional, Mackenzie would say something if Puddy had pulled the word out of her ass.

    Current score: 0
  13. jagroq says:

    Did i miss the part where Mack expressed any hate for Harlowe? Or is this supposed to be something she hasn’t realized yet? All of her friends/lovers except for Ian live there, and until the possible summer job with its on campus living space (that is probably just a spot it the dorms anyway) the only place she could go with her finances is to one of the human population dorms. With all the worry over her general safety from angry students, moving away from backup towards the possible danger seems like a bad move. As i see it she would be better off staying with in Harlowe and just putting up with the intrigues of her fellow students. Sure its annoying but at least only one of them is likely to try to kill her.

    That said her moving then getting placed with a couple of cheerleaders types with DnD major, jock, meat-head boyfriends would be hilarious.

    Current score: 0
    • bramble says:

      I’m not sure Mack has ever said it in so many words, but I can understand why Puddy would be under that impression. Remember, Puddy could pass for fully human just as easily as Mack could – probably more easily, because with a variety of non-humans in her family tree, she doesn’t exhibit traits of one specific non-human race the way Mack does. She takes great pride in her diverse ancestry and deliberately chose to be in the non-human dorm. Her first impression of Mack was, pretty accurately, of a girl who was deeply ashamed of her demonic ancestry, and who was probably only in Harlowe because she didn’t think she could get away with asking to be placed anywhere else. Mack’s started to work through these issues, and does have a lot of friends and allies within Harlowe now, but Puddy hasn’t been on hand to see most of that development and probably still thinks of Mack as someone who really doesn’t want to be in Harlowe and therefore doesn’t really deserve to be there.

      (Incidentally, she probably has something of a point there, and not just in regards to Mack. There’s various girls on their floor who, despite being socially and (mostly) physically human, seem to be in Harlowe because they think they have to be.)

      Current score: 2
  14. Morten G says:

    I just wish Mack had used the ‘secrets’ que from Puddy to find out something about her ancestry for the history assignment.

    Current score: 0
  15. Marx says:

    Well… I believe that Mack wouldn’t move into any other dorm. Not even after Puddy, of all people, suggesting it. I mean, what are the chances of Mack running into a lot of Khersian symbols in her new dorm, really? Harlowe, with its Non-human dorm status, is the only dorm where she can be sure she doesn’t stumble across khersian equivalents of our cross 3 times a day.

    Somewhere else to live, on the other hand, in conjunction with her summer job…

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      *SPOILER*well not really. . .

      The cat is already out of the bag. AE already made it clear that Mackenzie will be moving, when she sold naming privileges to the new dorm.

      Current score: 0
  16. Amy Amethyst says:

    “Here, let me give you my key,” I said. I dug it out of my pocket… in the process, I caught my foot on the lip of a step and went sprawling forward.

    “Good job,” Steff said, helping me up. “Most people only manage to fall the other way. Don’t let gravity keep you down.”

    I loved this part, because I trip and fall up the stairs …

    Current score: 1
  17. Erm says:

    “If so: fuck that, and get Amy to fuck the horse it rode in on.”


    Current score: 1
  18. Erm says:

    “I am what I do and I do what I am”
    … and I do not would like green eggs and ham.

    (Sorry, that line just screamed Dr. Seuss.)

    Current score: 3
  19. pedestrian says:

    Anyone else wistful that we are probably not going to get another performance at the Tomb of Horror’s. Even if just once in a great while. Of course it would take considerable effort to choreograph a new show to rival the first.

    And, if they don’t dip in that well too often, each time cold be very lucrative. And frankly I gotta wonder, the recordings the club made, if there weren’t special copies, especially expensive available for the Very Important clientele? Seems Our Mack should be getting some sort of royalty for her enthusiastic performance and Amaranth’s showmanship!

    Amy may have a future in show business, as an entrepreneur. I’m thinking along the lines of Guy Laliberte and Daniel Gauthier who together invented and developed the Cirque du Soleil.

    Oh, and also, if the police got their hands on the recordings, does anyone for a minute believe that they would not be sharing them with all their good buddies all over the ethernet?

    Current score: 1
  20. Anthony says:

    The clumsiness really bugs me, because it destroys suspension of disbelief. I have never in my life known someone (at least not a grown person) who trips on stairs on a regular basis. Especially if the basement was her sanctuary for 8 years, Mackenzie really should have enough practice by now to be able to climb stairs instinctively without tripping, just like everyone else.

    BTW did Steff just mention “gravity,” an inherently scientific concept, with no pedantic objections from Mackenzie? 😉

    Current score: 1
  21. lunchbox says:

    I will have you know that I am a 23 year old with clumsiness similar to Macks. I walk into doors/walls, trip on stairs/nothing all the time

    Current score: 1